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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 22, 2024


July 18, 2001 – One by one, the youthful students are summoned from their seats by martial arts master Richard Pearson to demonstrate the skills they will use competing in this weekend's international Shinobi Tournament on St. Thomas.
One by one, dressed in traditional karate uniforms with belts in colors that denote the skill levels they have achieved, the youths rise, stand at attention and bow respectfully to Pearson, requesting his permission to commence.
The large, open exercise room is otherwise quiet; as each student comes forward, the other 15 present sit up straight, focusing on Pearson's every move. A handful of parents who are watching mirror the respectful atmosphere at the St. Thomas Institute of Martial Arts, located in the alley alongside Pizza Hut on the downtown waterfront.
Coming from a traditional background, Pearson believes in a well-disciplined class. His emphasis during seminars and classes is on practical self defense and fitness.
The tournament the institute is hosting Saturday and Sunday will take place at the new University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center. Shinobi means "warrior," and the participants will compete in the disciplines of kenpo, koga ninjitsu, tae kwon do, karate and kick boxing.
The two-day event is expected to attract over 300 participants from throughout the United States, including a strong showing from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Participants also are expected from Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Israel, Panama and Venezuela.
According to Pearson, "The purpose of this tournament is to get more kids involved in martial arts, to give them direction … to give them more focus, instead of hanging out on the street."
Preceding the tournament will be a seminar on Saturday conducted by seven martial arts masters that is open to all serious martial arts enthusiasts, including law-enforcement professionals and security guards. The seminar is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration is $75, payable at the door. Those taking part will receive certificates of completion signed by all seven masters.
The tournament, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, is open to public viewing. Trophies will be awarded to competitors in forms, weapons, sparring and self-defense categories for various skill levels and ranks, male and female. In addition to the competition, the day will feature demonstrations by world-renowned grand masters, Martial Arts Hall of Fame inductees and members of the American Federation of Martial Arts. Admission for spectators is $6.
"I got started in martial arts when I was 6 years old," Pearson relates, recalling his New York childhood. "I grew up in Brooklyn — I grew up in the worst places. Studying martial arts gave me a lot of direction and gave me self-control and self-confidence, no matter what else was going on. Focus is the idea in martial arts."
Pearson, 41, has been focused on teaching martial arts locally since he moved here in 1985 to found the St. Thomas institute. He is an expert in several martial arts forms, having earned five black belts, the highest rank being 5th degree. In 2000, he was inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame by the American Federation of Martial Arts; he has since become a regional director of the federation.
He said he hopes a lot of St. Thomas residents will turn out Sunday to watch the competition. "Listen," he says, "bring your kids, or bring your grandkids. Give them the opportunity to see other kids getting started at 4 years old" in martial arts classes.

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